As a Las Vegas local, I used to complain that we “have no culture.” Once upon a time, I believed that the only thing my city had to offer the world was the rhythmic dinging of slot machines and the bright, flickering glow of fluorescent lights. After all, I’d been to New York City and Washington, D.C. Those were real cities, filled with culture, history, and pasts tracing back to well before our nation’s founding fathers. In those cities, you could learn about all the mystical and magical things this great big world has to offer. In Las Vegas, I concluded, the roots of the past were young and shallow.
Exploring Las Vegas Museums Taught Me A Thing or Two
That is to say, until I became a fourth-grade teacher. In the land of classroom curriculum, fourth-grade history lessons center around the state in which you live. I moved to Las Vegas when I was in 6th grade; therefore, I missed these tutorials a child.
As a result of teaching the history of our great Silver State, I visited many Las Vegas Museums. Subsequently, I learned to recognize and appreciate the importance of our rich and exciting past. From ending slavery to fortifying the American Southwest, our state boomed. Then enduring the infusion of gaming gangsters with Tommy guns and eventually becoming the entertainment capital of the United States, Nevada prevailed.
For instance, from inception in 1864, this Battle Born state played a crucial role in ending slavery by aiding in the re-election of Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. Even then, we marched to the beat of our own drum. People argued our statehood had been illegally gained since we didn’t meet the population threshold, which at the time was 60,000. We hovered somewhere around 35,000. Close enough, right?
Nevada puts the “Wild” in “Wild West”
Later, we went on to be the first state to ratify the 15th Amendment, giving African American men the right to vote. Furthermore, ever since the lower 48 first cast their ballots in the election in 1912, Nevadans have voted for the winning president 96% of the time. Moreover, in 1933, the construction of the Hoover Dam prompted the invention of hard hats.
The Hoover Dam, a structure that rivals Egyptian Pyramids, stands mightily at our border, taming the Colorado River, enabling life to flourish in the American Southwest. Deserted ghost towns remind us of Comstock Lode in all it’s abundant glory. Woven between these fantastic feats lie the stories of UFOs, true-tales of mobsters, and bootlegging proving that Nevada put the “wild” in the term “Wild West.”
Consequently, I became enamored with just how vital Nevada was (and still is) in shaping our country’s history and carving out its colorful yet innovative and open-minded future. From ending slavery to fortifying the American Southwest to gaming gangsters with Tommy guns to becoming the entertainment capital of the United States, Nevada has seen it all. Therefore, when planning a visit to Sin City, you can’t count out these not-so-touristy attractions.
333 South Valley View Boulevard Las Vegas, NV
Admission: $4.95 (Nevada Resident Child) – $18.95 (Non-Nevada Resident Adult)
Operated by the Las Vegas Valley Water District, this 80- acres is booming with exciting and engaging exhibits. As a result, visitors get to experience the rush of an actual flash flood. Additionally, they get to visit real-live desert-dwelling animals, and have an opportunity to stroll back in time through the streets of a 1905 Boomtown. A visit to Springs Preserve will not disappoint.
Without a doubt, admission is worth every penny. The fee grants entry to several exhibits within Springs Preserve. These including the Origen Museum, Botanical Gardens, Waterworks, Sustainability Gallery, DesertSol, and the Nature Exchange.
More than one Museum?
Moreover, a ticket gets you into the Nevada State Museum, located just next door. Nevada residents, seniors, AAA members, military members, and students are entitled to discounted admission. In addition, Bank of America cardholders who visit during the first weekend of the month get free admission.
Steadfast and resilient, Nevada continues to thrive. Now, home to the most hotel rooms on the plant, we are unquestionably the entertainment capital of the United States. However, when visitors flock to our town, as they often do, they rarely recognize the intricate part our city has Museums and local historical treasures.
Nevada State Museum
333 South Valley View Boulevard Las Vegas, NV
Admission: Included when you purchase a ticket to Springs Preserve. Springs Preserve Ticketing is required.
Take a walk through Nevada’s history in this 13,000 square-foot gallery. First, hear how geology shaped the Great Basin, then learn about the plant and animals that inhabit our great state, and finally see Nevada’s state fossil the ichthyosaur.
Get lost in the story of Native Americans, pioneers, early settlers, miners, railroaders, ranchers, and entrepreneurs. Learn about the Hoover Dam, the atomic era, and how Las Vegas became the resort capital of the world.
If you’ve been to the museum before, you may want to head back as it boasts three ever-changing galleries. Currently, on display, in the changing gallery, you can check out Eclectic Nevada. The wall gallery features Obsidian & Neon: Celebrating Black Life and Identity in Las Vegas. And finally, in Curator’s Canyon view, “This Stage Costume is a Survivor” and the “Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument.”
The Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument will eventually move the National Parks Service’s brand new facilities located on the North end of the Las Vegas valley.
(Military members in uniform get in free!)
Learn about hydroelectricity and how the entire U.S. Southwest thrives thanks to the innovative use of the Colorado River. The Bureau of Reclamation has been leading visitors through the dam and power plant since the ’30s. It is no less impressive today.
For $30, you get the whole kit-n-caboodle. A Guided Dam Tour includes a guided tour of the historic tunnels (which you have to see!), a guided tour of the inspection tunnels, plus the power plant tour.
Visitor center hours are 9 am to 5 pm, although there is no entry after 4:15 pm. The first Dam Tour begins at 9:30 am, then continue every half hour throughout the day until 3:30 pm. Tours groups fill up on a first-come-first-served basis, and only 20 people are allowed on each tour.
Additionally, the guided tour lasts about one hour, but you want to include time to visit the self-guided exhibits, original exhibit building, and the breath-taking observation deck. Military members, seniors, and children enjoy discounted entry fees.
Las Vegas Natural History Museum
900 Las Vegas Boulevard North Las Vegas, NV
Admission: $6 – $12
Located Downtown, The Las Vegas Natural History Museum is a private, nonprofit natural history museum. The exhibits focus on various subjects, from dinosaurs to marine life. Visit the Egyptian exhibition to learn about the life of Tutankhamun.
First, revel in awe at the 35-foot long Tyrannosaurus Rex as he lowers his head and lets out a surprising “roar!” in the Engelstad Family Prehistoric Life Gallery or then visit Leonardo, the world’s most preserved dinosaur mummified dinosaur.
Next, submerge yourself in the Marine Life Gallery to see live sharks and stingrays in the 3,000-gallon tank. However, the adventure doesn’t end there. In addition to marine life, the Las Vegas Natural History Museum is home to many terrestrial animals, including Burmese pythons, tarantulas, scorpions, snakes, and lizards.
Continue the journey in South Africa as you stroll through the Gary & Matthew Primm African Savannah Gallery and African RainForest. Check out the International Wildlife Gallery, E.L. Wiegand Foundation Wild Nevada Gallery, Prehistoric Mammals Gallery, Geology Gallery, and Cox Charities Young Scientist Center.
The Bank of America Museums on Us® program offers free admission to this museum and more than 220 cultural institutions nationwide during the first full weekend of every month. Show your Bank of America card in exchange for your ticket. Additionally, if you are a member of a science center or museum participating in the ASTC Travel Passport Program, you are eligible for benefits such as free general admission (2 adults and 2 children) when you travel outside of your local area.
Clark County Museum
1830 S. Boulder Highway, Henderson, NV
This 30-acre site features a contemporary exhibit hall with a timeline exhibit about southern Nevada from prehistoric to modern times and a collection of restored historic buildings that depict daily life from different decades in Las Vegas, Boulder City, Henderson and Goldfield.
There are many points of interest. Heritage Street is a unique collection of historic homes, restored to recreate the lifestyles of significant periods in local history. Revisit the news at a replicated 1900s newspaper print shop. Railroad buffs will enjoy touring the 1932 Boulder City Depot and see a real 1918 Union Pacific steam engine and walk through an old-time caboose.
Enter a mining exhibit filled with mineral specimens, wander through a resurrected ghost town, and a half-mile nature trail. Then visit a pueblo of the ancient ones. Southern Nevada has a rich and colorful history, and the Clark County Museum is a place where you can explore it all.
There’s Even More to the Clark County Museum
Visitors embark on a historical journey from the Ice Age to the Age of Entertainment in the Ann Robert Parks Exhibit Hall. The timeline chronicles the history and culture of the ancient Pueblo and more recent Paiute, early town-sites and land auction camps, mining technology, and the gaming and entertainment heritage of Las Vegas.
The Heritage Gallery’s changing exhibits feature art and artifacts in their historical context. That is to say, the Heritage Street homes offer doorways into past decades, from the 1910s to the 1970s.
Additionally, the Boulder City depot and collection of railroad cars recall the railroad heritage of southern Nevada. At the same time, the Ghost Town and Mining Trail offers a perspective on life in the hot and arid Southwest environment. Certainly, Southern Nevada has a rich and colorful history, and the Clark County Museum is a place where you can explore it all.
Discovery Children’s Museum
360 Promenade Place, Las Vegas, NV 89106
This 58,000-square-foot, three-story children’s museum offers tons of entertaining hands-on learning experiences. Additionally, everyone is excited about it’s Discovery Lab, the museum’s newest addition. Designed to provoke creativity, ignite the imagination, stimulate exploration, and promote risk-taking, critical thinking, and collaboration the lab offers a hands-on approach to design discovery. This “makerspace” features coding and CAD software, a workshop with a laser cutter, 3-D printers, and a kiln.
Moreover, tons of specialized resources are available for woodworking, circuitry, sewing, sculpting, ceramics, and painting. Additionally, STEAM workshops and camps are available.
Further, the Discovery Lab is just one of the many experience-rich exhibits. Visitors can’t miss other permanent adventures-to-knowledge like The Summit, Fantasy Festival, Eco City, Patents Pending, Toddler Town, and Water World. Several traveling exhibits also move through this fun-loving learning space, so there’s always something new to see. Kids will want to visit this museum, again and again, so be warned, you may need to add it to your itinerary each time you visit Las Vegas.
The Mob Museum
300 Stewart Ave, Las Vegas, NV 89101
The Mob Museum, officially the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, is a history museum whose mission is to “advance the public understanding of organized crime’s history and impact on American society.”
The site itself is a restored 1933 courthouse and post office building, which is especially cool because some of the infamous mobsters were tried right there in the courthouse. Get your mugshot taken, read the riveting, and sometimes gruesome true tales of crime and punishment. Explore real stories of actual events of Mob history through interactive exhibits and authentic artifacts.
Exclusive experiences like the Firearm Training Simulator, Crime Lab, or Distillery Tour and Tasting are extra, and age restrictions apply. However, I highly recommend them. During the Firearm Training Simulator, my daughter and I had the chance to take part in confronting a “suspicious” person during the live role-playing scenario.
My daughter fabulously executed the task; I “died.” It seems not everyone’s cut out for law enforcement. It was a thrilling, albeit, sort of nerve-wracking experience.
The Mob Museum wouldn’t be historically accurate without teaching visitors about prohibition. Take the 30-minute tour of the working distillery, taste moonshine, vodka, and the museum’s own Jamaica ginger infusion. Underground Distillery Tours take place daily. Weekdays: 12, 1, 2, 4 p.m. Weekends: 12, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 p.m.
The Mob Museum Hasn’t Forgotten About Prohibition
In true Las Vegas fashion, this museum also offers adult entertainment. Flappers, jazz, and the Roaring Twenties genuinely come to life in the museum’s authentic feeling speakeasy, The Underground. Visitors will be transported back in time with true-to-it’s-time-time artifacts, a stocked bar serving Prohibition-era cocktails, and of course, live entertainment.
The Underground and Distillery are open from 9 am-12 am. Museum tickets included entry to both. After hours, if you visit their website, you can get the password of the week for free admission to The Underground. However, when it comes to finding the elusive side entry door, you’re on your own.
National Atomic Testing Museum
755 E Flamingo Rd, Las Vegas, NV 89119
Monday-Saturday: 10 am – 5 pm
Sunday- 12 pm – 5 pm
An affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution and the only Congressionally mandated museums in Nevada,The National Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas, Nevada, documents the history of nuclear testing at the Nevada Test Site in the desert north of Las Vegas.
Although the museum itself is relatively small museum hosts recommend allowing 2-4 hours to tour the facility. However, it could take hours to visit if you stop to read everything like my husband and I did. The repository boasts more than 12,000 unique artifacts in educational and inspiring exhibits. For instance, visitors can feel the ground-shaking, thunderous explosion of an atmospheric bomb blast. Then learn how to survive an atomic blast, how the first nuclear bomb was made, and finally, see the technology and science that took nuclear testing underground.
Zak Bagans’ The Haunted Museum
600 E Charleston Blvd, Las Vegas, NV 89104
Mon. & Wed.-Sat.: 1 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Sun: 12 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Generally, creepy hallways and secret passages don’t make for a great museum experience. However, this is Las Vegas we’re talking about; therefore, anything goes. On the other hand, even haunted history is still history. Be prepared to sign a waiver because, yes, it’s that frightening.
Featured on Travel Channel’s popular series, “Ghost Adventures,” this haunted museum is no joke. You can check out the Ghost Adventures episode entitled, “Artifacts” to see the museum’s whole haunted collection. Additionally, if you have the courage, book a tour when you’re in town.
In short, I’ve come to realize that Las Vegas is, in fact, far more than the dinging of slot machines and the bright, flickering glow of fluorescent lights for which we are so famous. In the same vein, we do have a Neon Museum, which didn’t make my list. However, I do mention it below. So, next time you’re in town, consider taking a short sabbatical from the strip. Opt, instead to take a journey into our rich and vibrant and past.
Other Las Vegas Museums of Interest
770 Las Vegas Boulevard North, Las Vegas, NV 89101
Nevada State Railroad Museum
601 Yucca Street Boulder City, Nevada
Metropolitan Gallery/Art Museum Las Vegas
450 Fremont St #270, Las Vegas, NV 89101
Burlesque Hall of Fame
1027 S Main St #110, Las Vegas, NV 89101